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option4 Update #64 NZFN Nov 2005

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Danger ahead for Fishing

NZ Fishing News
November 2005


This article was originally published in the New Zealand Fishing News December 2005 edition.


Recent complaints by environmental groups that unconstrained commercial fishing and poor management is threatening many marine species is yet another shot in a long list of credible attacks on the way the Ministry of Fisheries refuses to stand up to commercial fishers and the flawed ideology of the property rights based Quota Management System (QMS).

Of major concern to recreational fishers is the Ministry of Fisheries have recently changed the way they allocate catches between commercial and non-commercial fishers to a "proportional system".

The reason appears to be so that recreational and customary catches can be further reduced while excessive commercial catches are maintained or increased.

The proportional system is causing a direct reallocation of recreational and customary fish to commercial fishers.

Regardless of the self-serving praises the Ministry of Fisheries heap upon their creation, the truth is the QMS has failed to deliver the promised rebuild in many inshore fisheries. This is simply because the same Ministry has failed to constrain commercial fishers to the levels it's own scientists recommended at the outset!

The reason for all of the above appears to be that the Ministry have given such powerful rights
to the fishing industry they now simply do whatever the industry says, rather than risk being sued by them.

Dangers of Proportionalism – A case study

To understand the dangers of proportionalism we need look no further than the history of snapper 8, the west coast fishery from North Cape to Wellington, and this year's appalling fishery management decisions.

In 1986 commercial fishers were issued 1330 tonnes of quota in snapper 8. At time the Ministry believed constraining commercial fishers to this initial quota would allow the fishery, which had been depleted by excessive pair trawling since the 1970's, to rebuild.

It is not surprising that commercial fishers soon found ways to maintain high catches and exceed the original quota.

The activities of the Quota Appeals Authority, which issued additional quota to commercial
fishers who were unhappy with their initial allocations, allowed the total snapper 8 quota to increase above sustainable levels.

On top of this commercial fishers legally deemed tonnes of catch in excess of quota over the years. The Ministry failed to see the danger or act to mitigate the risk posed by these excesses.

According to the Ministry snapper 8 also suffers among the highest levels of commercial high
grading and dumping of snapper. The Ministry estimate the total illegal activities of commercial fishers amounts to around 150 tonnes per annum in snapper 8.

Table 1: Commercial catch in SNA8 since 1987


Commercial snapper catch in Snapper 8 (SNA8) in tonnes

1987 - 2003













Total overcatch


*  Amount allowed for dumping, high grading and non-reporting. This number     also incudes incidental mortality so may overestimate illegal activity.

** Quota Appeals Authority issued quota

As of last year commercial fishers had removed around 6000 tonnes of snapper in excess of their initial annual quota entitlement in snapper 8 since 1987. Considering the Ministry has allowed these excesses to continue for almost 20 years, it beggars belief that they now seem perplexed as to why the fishery has not rebuilt.

Recreational fishers catches have been cut three times in this same period of time. The bag limit was reduced from 30 to 20 in the early 1990's. In 1995 voluntary cuts by way of reduced bag limits to 15 snapper, increased minimum size limits and a reduction of hook numbers on longlines in SNA 8 reduced non-commercial catch by around 26%, action which has conserved 800 - 1600 tonnes since 1995. The latest 2005 decision reduces recreational catches by a further 15%.

In September the Minister made a proportional decision and cut commercial quota, customary and recreational allowances by 15% each. He explained it by saying, "To be fair to all New Zealanders, I've decided these reductions should be shared across all sectors."  

While the Minister may think these proportional reductions are fair, what is obvious is that proportionalism punishes those who conserve, and rewards those who waste and squander.

It is hard to imagine a decision that would be more unfair!

After this year's decision commercial fishers still have almost the same 1330 tonne quota they were issued in 1986. Their new quota is 1295 tonnes, or a reduction of only 2.5% from the original level.

Recreational fishers have had their catches reduced by around 40% over the same timeframe.  

When the unfairness of proportional allocations were discussed at a hui in July Stan Crothers , the deputy CEO of MFish, categorically stated that MFish "accept that those who cause the damage should pay."

He went on to say, "It is true, the way we manage fisheries right now there are not a great deal of incentives for recreational fishers or Maori customary fishers to conserve, other than their belief that the fish stocks should be in a healthy state. We do need a fisheries management planning framework where contributions are truly reflected."

While the Ministry realise there are major unresolved issues in the way they are implementing proportional allocations, it is obvious they find it easier to continue to take fish off the non-commercial sector, than be fair or honest and face the consequences of their mismanagement of the commercial fisheries.


Ministry Policy

Proportional allocation of fisheries is a recent policy construct of the Ministry of Fisheries. It is not a mechanism included in the Fisheries Act 1996.

option4 is certain that it is a means by which the Ministry will allocate the minimum possible tonnage of fish to non-commercial fishers to avoid compensation issues for the Crown. The snapper 8 decision also shows how quickly the Ministry will reduce recreational catches to help prop up excessive commercial catches.

Under a proportional system the Ministry effectively remove themselves from allocation decisions. Non-commercial fishers will soon be asked to develop Fisheries Plans "collaboratively" with the fishing industry to resolve any issues.

This is frightening, if the Ministry with all of it's resources cannot control commercial fishers, what hope will an under-resourced non-commercial sector have against the might of the commercial fishing sector under a proportional system? None!

Proportionalism is a dangerous experiment, with a very suspect background. It could quickly result in the people of this country losing all of their fishing rights as described in section 21 of the Fisheries Act.

Proportionalism is totally opposite to what was promised to non-commercial fishers when the QMS was introduced in 1986. The Minister of Fisheries at the time, Colin Moyle, made a statement we now refer to as Moyle's Promise,

"Preference will be given to non-commercial fishing in areas readily accessible to and popular with the public, where a species is not sufficiently abundant to support both non-commercial and commercial fishing."

Recreational fishers must also argue that setting the non-commercial allocations when both recreational and customary catch have been driven down to such low levels by excessive commercial fishing and poor management is so unfair it is completely unacceptable.


Maori and Proportionalism

Many Maori now realise that almost all of their fishing is categorised as recreational fishing. Therefore, where current management allows fish stocks to be driven to low levels, they fully understand how it adversely affects their ability to feed their families.

Four hui have been held in Northland since May to discuss non-commercial fishing.

Progress has been steady with the most recent hui confirming the need to work together to achieve the common goal of "more fish in the water" "Kia maha atu nga ika i roto te wai" .

Both customary and recreational interests have been well represented in the forum called the Hokianga Accord. Another meeting is scheduled for early in the New Year. For more information please call 09 8186205.


What Happens Next?

In recent fisheries management proposals MFish has reinforced their policy preference to use a proportional system when allocation decisions are being made, almost using it as a default despite its lack of support in law and obvious unfairness. option4 will continue applying pressure on the Ministry so that recreational concerns about proportionalism are addressed.

option4 sent a submission to MFish in August about the proportional allocation system.

Stan Crothers assured us that MFish would be willing to discuss any outstanding issues after October 1st . option4 is currently attempting to arrange a meeting with the new Minister, Jim Anderton, Stan Crothers and the CEO John Glaister to see if the issue can be progressed.

All non-commercial fishers must remember the QMS was developed purely to constrain commercial fishers who had depleted most of the inshore shared fisheries. The QMS has failed in many fisheries because of its poor implementation and the lack of proper management of commercial fishers by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Commercial fishers have argued that unless allocation decisions, particularly cuts in catch, are made proportionally, they may take the Minister to court. The possibility of losing has obviously frightened the Ministry of Fisheries to the point where they are currently cowering behind proportional allocation as a preferred policy simply to placate the fishing industry. Commonsense and any semblance of fairness have gone out the window. However, none of this has ever been legally tested in court. Previous court rulings have been clear that the Minister is not bound to using a proportional approach, it appears the Ministry may be jumping at shadows.

option4 are committed to combating proportional allocation and reversing the losses recreational fishers have suffered because of it. It is not fair, does not address failed management, does not have the support of non-commercial fishers and most importantly has not been adequately consulted on. Until such time the Ministry of Fisheries deliver a credible consultation process, and address concerns expressed over the last five years, proportional allocation will continue to be viewed as a very real danger to people's ability to fish for food into the future.


More Information

The full option4 submissions including the proportional allocation document are available online and can be downloaded for you to read at


Reports from the recent hui are online at



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